Monday, November 23, 2009

What a Long Strange Trip it Has Been (Calhoun, GA)

Scenic Mohawk Industries, just outside of Calhoun, GA

The background tapestry of my night ... or was it my dream?

I should have known Monday would turn out to be a bit unique. It's not often that I wake up to see a picture and story about me on the front page of a small town newspaper. In fact, that has never happened. So I was already in uncharted waters.

That was just the overture. Ben Laughter dropped me off at the Oakwood Cafe where Mickey Shealey brought me breakfast. As we were eating and talking a woman came over to me and said, "You be safe out there, you hear? I'm a trucker, so I know what kind of things go on out there. Just be careful."

I smiled and said that I would, all the while wondering just what it was that she has seen that had her so concerned for my safety. I picture some giant snake, like in a Frog and Toad novel, waiting for me to come around a bend in the road. What does she think might happen? And why is it that the overwhelming majority of people who hear about this trip play the safety card right off the top of the deck? Only a few times have I told someone about this trip and they responded with something along the lines of, "Meet as many strangers as you can and soak up every moment of this experience."

I really enjoyed The Friends Formerly Known As Strangers I had met in Dalton - Ben, Lynn, Miller, Mary Lynn, Mickey. And as I walked out of town I randomly met another kind soul. He was a worker at a gas station convenience store at the south edge of town. I saw him walk out of the store, come to the edge of the road and hold up a large Gatorade. I took off my headset and he called out, "We just read about you in the paper and we figured you'd be headed this way. Can you use a Gatorade?" I could, and I did.

Laden down with plenty of fluids I headed on to Calhoun. This is where things got a little weird. I was listening to the audio book "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens, awash in the imaginary sights and sounds of the 1800s, when I got startled from behind on the road. It wasn't a car. It wasn't a truck. It wasn't an angry dog intent on avenging its brethren's defeat at the Battle of Thorngrove. It was a lean, stern looking man riding a rather large horse. He was dressed in an old fashioned full length black trench coat and cowboy hat. I joked to myself that he looked like a character stuck in the Civil War when all of a sudden he turned into a small driveway leading to a set of stables. As I walked up on it I read the sign outside: "The Confederate Stables of the United States, 1865."

Confederate flags adorned the barns. There were no cars to be seen. Is it possible that I had been listening to Dickens and stepped into a time warp, transporting me back to the second half of the 19th century? The rider galloped out onto the road again when I drew parallel with barn and I started to wonder if he was keeping an eye on me. Then, just when I started to question my sanity, I heard a distant ring. The mysterious horseman pulled out a cell phone, put it up to his ear and said a gruff hello. Whew. Something tells me it wasn't Jefferson Davis wanting to make sure he picked up a quart of milk.

Dalton, where I was walking from, is home to Shaw Industries, the largest carpet manufacturer in the world. Calhoun, where I was walking to, is home to Mohawk Industries, the largest floor covering manufacturer in the world. Ah, the beauty of corporate word play. I am pretty sure the only people who care about distinctions like that live in either Dalton or Calhoun. I don't live in either, so the only significance to me was that I had to walk past the rather large and ugly Mohawk plant just outside of town. For some reason, it put me in mind of Milwaukee. Maybe all gray, industrial visages do that but either way I started fantasizing that a whistle would blow and Laverne & Shirley would come barreling out of the doors. Yep, it was just one of those days.

Just after 5pm I met the person who had agreed to host me. His name was Nathan and I connected with him through Couchsurfing. I've been on the road long enough now to know that you can't expect the same level of hospitality from a single man as you can from a married couple or a single woman. It is just two completely different paradigms. And right away I sensed that Nathan didn't know what the night held and exactly where I would be staying. Needless to say, that didn't put me at ease.

He was an affable and friendly guy who apparently doesn't sleep much. Appropriately, our first stop was at a gas station to buy him a Red Bull. From there we went to a small trailer outside a house in the country that contained a makeshift recording studio. A couple of his friends were there and he laid down a quick bass track for a song a young 17-year-old ingenue was there to sing. From there we all went back to his friend's house on the other side of town. By this time he had revealed to me he was kind of crashing with his parents at the moment and I thought to myself, "do they now that they might have an extra guest tonight?"

Luckily his friend's house turned out to be my last stop for the night. His friend's mother served me a wonderful meal while Nathan left to give a guitar lesson and then audition a drummer for his band. By the time I heard Nathan and his friends return it was past 10 and I was knocked out on the couch.

I faded in and out of sleep that night. I'm not entirely sure what parts were a dream and which weren't. I remember people in the living room talking in hushed tones because I was sleeping. I remember a pregnant girl playing Super Mario Brothers on the big screen TV. I remember the sounds of Nathan playing guitar and singing with a group of people out on his friend's patio until about 3am in the morning. Lastly, I remember Nathan talking to his friend around 4am, softly asking him if it was cool if I stayed for the rest of the night on the couch. It was, and I did.

I was awake before anyone else in the house. I showered, packed and left a note of thanks to his friend's mother for letting me stay there and for the wonderful meal. I was gone before getting a chance to say goodbye.

And here's the worst thing. This was the only stay of my trip that I forgot to take a photograph. Everything was so chaotic and up in the air that it just never happened. So who knows? Maybe it was all a dream. Maybe the picture in my mind's eye is more vivid and enjoyable than any actual image could be. There is Nathan, his friend's mom, the young singing ingenue, the Super Mario girl, the mysterious horseman, Laverne, Shirley and a pipe smoking Charles Dickens reading quietly in the corner.

If this was a page in my high school yearbook I picture Nathan writing across the top of it, "Lately, it occurs to me: What a long, strange trip it has been."


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